GPs in Northern Ireland are to receive an additional £3.9m in funding, the Department of Health has announced.
It said £1.7m was to help practices deal with an increasing elderly population and £2.2m to uplift the GP contract by 1%.
Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary of the Department of Health, said the investment followed £3.91m earlier this year for the rollout of 300 practice-based pharmacists to take the pressure off GP practices.
‘The Department recognises that primary care and GP services are the bedrock of our health and social care system,’ he said.
‘Given the current difficult financial position, investing nearly £10m more in GP services, the largest additional investment in recent years, reflects the department’s commitment to the continued development of sustainable and accessible primary care services centred on the needs of patients.’
He added the department was also changing the eligibility criteria for sickness leave for GPs, which would save them more than £2.5m a year in sickness leave insurance premiums.
Dr Tom Black, chair of Northern Ireland GPC, said: ‘We welcome that the department has managed to work through the current political impasse to make this investment in general practice and we hope this funding will help address some immediate pressures.
But he added: ‘It is disappointing though that it was not released, as agreed, nine months ago.’
Dr Black said this was the first step to address the current crisis facing general practice but it was imperative that the full GP-led Care Review Plan announced a year ago was now implemented.
‘Without the full plan being implemented services for patients will continue to suffer. We look forward to hearing more from the department on this.’
The BMA said predictions of 20 practices having to close this year had come to pass and more were in imminent danger of collapse.
Dr Grainne Doran, chair of the RCGP in Northern Ireland, said GPs throughout the region had been working at maximum capacity, struggling to manage a significantly growing workload without any extra resources, but the extra funding was evidence the department had acknowledged the issue.
‘We believe that this investment acknowledges the department’s commitment to ensure the long-term sustainability of general practice in Northern Ireland.’
She added: ‘Primary care services are the foundation of our health service and greater transformation will not be achieved until GP services are sustainable and fit for purpose.
‘While we are pleased to receive this additional funding for general practice, the college is calling for the recommendations of the GP-led Care Report to be fully resourced and implemented, as agreed by the previous health minister in December 2016.’